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Avoiding Ecommerce Meltdowns: For Dippin’ Dots Delivering Quality CX is all about Timing (and Dry Ice)

Dippin' Dots has figured out a way to deliver its super cold ice cream to fans at home.

If you’re a child of the ’90s then you already know (and probably love) Dippin’ Dots. If you’re not and you don’t have kids or have never been to an amusement park, then here’s the long and short of it — Dippin’ Dots is cryogenically frozen ice cream that form little beads to create a flavor and texture party in your mouth.

Dippin' Dots production facility.
Dippin’ Dots are flash frozen at -320° F and must be stored at temperatures well below what a typical home freezer can accommodate.

Launched in 1988, Dippin’ Dots now has 22,000 points of presence across the U.S., including carts, vending machines and franchise stores. The novelty ice cream is served in nearly every major theme park across the country and in more than two-thirds of all baseball stadiums, not to mention at other local attractions, convenience stores and shopping malls.

And now, consumers can also find Dippin Dots’ online — no small feat when your product is flash frozen at -320° F and has to be stored at temperatures well below what a typical home freezer can accommodate.

Crafting an ecommerce experience that doesn’t create customer service catastrophes has been a logistical and design challenge of epic proportions, but the company has pulled it off. With the help of a few key tech partners, Dippin’ Dots has been able to:

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  • Avoid “melt-downs” with a customer-friendly, precision-timed checkout and delivery experience;
  • Develop a website that translates the fun and whimsy of the Dippin’ Dots brand into a digital environment; and
  • Create a multi-functional site that not only serves retail customers but also park managers and other sellers, as well as potential franchisees.

Crafting a Precision Delivery Experience

Dippin' Dots ice cream.

Dippin’ Dots isn’t your run-of-the-mill ice cream, which means a run-of-the-mill ecommerce experience just won’t work. “When you order Dippin’ Dots, it has to remain very, very cold — it can’t even go into a regular home freezer — so it’s shipped in a cooler with dry ice,” explained Dana Knudsen, Senior Director of Marketing at Dippin’ Dots in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “From the time we ship it to when it’s delivered to the consumer, it needs to be eaten within about 24 hours — it’s ice cream; it’s going to melt unless you find a way to get more dry ice. Also, a lot of people are ordering for things like birthday parties or a special occasion, so they have a very specific date when they need the product. It’s tricky.”

“Tricky” might be an understatement. To build out the very specific experience they needed for their site, Knudsen and her team turned to ecommerce agency Groove Commerce, which built the new site on the BigCommerce platform. This wasn’t Dippin’ Dots’ first foray into ecommerce, but the previous site was built on an “antiquated platform” that didn’t have the design or functionality the brand wanted, said Knudsen.

Groove used BigCommerce’s one-page checkout flow as the basis for the experience, but that plug-in doesn’t have the functionality to let users pick a delivery date, so Groove layered on Advanced Shipping Manager’s API.

Dippin' Dots delivery box.

The result is a customized checkout experience that presents Dippin’ Dots customers with a calendar once they input their shipping address. “The calendar displays the current date as well as blackout dates, and then for each day that is available for shipping, it shows the lowest-cost shipping price,” said Drew Blais, Creative Director at Groove Commerce in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “A user can then select the date that they would like the item to be delivered. If there’s only one available shipping method on that day, that will be the one the system chooses. If there are multiple available shipping methods, it will give the user the option to choose from those methods and display the corresponding price.”

A key piece of making this all work is ensuring customers understand the limitations around their delivery, so the site includes detailed instructions in multiple places, and customers must confirm that they’ve read the delivery instructions before they can check out.

Small Design Tweaks that Make a Big Impact

The site’s clear, simple checkout experience belies the complicated work going on behind the scenes, and the same goes for the website’s redesign, which features a variety of new elements that Blais described as “small in scale, but big in impact.”

“I too am a child of the ’90s, and this is the kind of project that every designer dreams about — having the opportunity to take a brand that you have such a personal connection to and translate that physical experience in a digital environment,” said Blais.  

“We’re not trying to replace any of the outlets where you get Dippin’ Dots, because those are great, fun places to visit, and that experience of having Dippin’ Dots while you’re there is what makes people just love the brand,” explained Knudsen. “We just want people to be able to create those same memories and bring that same experience to their birthday party or an event that they’re having. We’re all about fun and color and excitement and making people happy, so it was important to communicate that through our website as well.”

The new Dippin' Dots online experience.
Snapshot of the new Dippin’ Dots website design.

Some of the ways the Groove team did this include:

  • Small design elements like integrating icicles into the site header;
  • Showing images of ingredients behind the cups in the product imagery to give a clearer picture of each flavor profile;
  • Custom CSS animations that do things like increase the image size and tilt the text when you hover over an image in the product list; and
  • A loading animation of dots falling into a cup when something is processing in the background.

We took all of these opportunities to just add small moments of delight into the experience and translate what it is like to have that product in person,” said Blais.

Serving Up an Experience that Serves All

The new site launched in June 2022, just in the time to capitalize on the peak summer season, and now serves many needs beyond just those of hungry, nostalgic fans.

Not only is the site used to build new wholesale and franchise partnerships, but many consumers also visit simply to find out more information about the treat they’re enjoying on a day out.

In actuality, ecommerce isn’t a huge piece of Dippin’ Dots’ business, and it likely never will be, especially because the cost for home delivery is high. Customers order in bulk, so the price for one bag runs around $70 — although Knudsen points out that when you consider that there are approximately 30 cups of ice cream in a bag, the cost per person is actually lower than what people pay at venues. But the shipping doesn’t come cheap – since one-day airmail is often the only option, prices can frequently run well above $100 for a delivery.

Still, Knudsen says the company’s ecommerce traffic is steady, and they’ve even been shocked to find that many people are placing orders just for themselves, a notable trend when you consider the whole bag has to be eaten in 24 hours. Bottom line: never understand estimate the lengths people will go for a nostalgic, joy-inducing treat.

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